Four-day working weeks… Are they the future?

Atom Bank recently announced that their staff were moving to a four-day working week with no loss of pay. Sounds great – but is it really? Asks Neil Bradbrook

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The answer is yes, and also no. It is a good step – but only a step – in the right direction.

Four-day working weeks are great for many staff. Think of young professionals. They often work long hours already, so benefitting from a three-day weekend is a great reward.

But there is no “one-size fits all” solution to this, and four-day weeks don’t suit – in fact may even disadvantage – many others. Consider working parents. A four-day week generally necessitates longer hours on the four days you work. Earlier starts and later finishes. But this is the exact opposite of what working parents need.

The current 9-5 routine already creates tension at the start and end of every day trying to ensure drop off / collection on time and meeting work commitments. Extending this to 8.30-6.00, as the Atom days do, makes this even harder – if not impossible: few nurseries or after school clubs run beyond 6 pm.

Likewise, if someone suffers from physical or mental illness making them more prone to stress or fatigue, a more compressed working week may not be a solution.

The right solution is flexibility. Allowing people to have control over creating the most effective working pattern for them is where true value lies.

Imagine Atom invited each staff member to shape their 34-hour pattern. Many people will choose the four-day working week, but parents may prefer to work 10-4 five days a week, making up their remaining hours in the evenings once kids are in bed.

Recent research on the benefits of flexible working from the #FlexAppeal campaign provided the first ever in-depth study into the financial benefits for businesses of flexible working.

Companies which offer flexible working reap huge financial rewards from reduced absenteeism, lower attrition, increased productivity from happier, more motivated staff and lower wage inflation over time.

For too long we have fostered a culture of presenteeism. We have perpetuated a view that those who work the longest hours are therefore working hardest and are our most valuable employees. In reality, it is not the hours that matter, but the quality of the output.

Equally, all too often I hear employees talking about how much they give to their companies, and they just don’t get enough back.

Great performance comes from those who are invested in your business and believe in it.

If staff just work for a wage, then days off will happen. People will leave if someone else offers a higher amount. And productivity will be lower: people will do the necessary, but little more.

If staff feel looked after; if they feel the business genuinely caters for their needs, then commitment, productivity and loyalty go through the roof.

I commend Atom Bank – we should all seek to follow their lead. But be flexible. Allow staff to input into what they need. That is truly the future of work.